Driving the Copper Coast in Waterford in an orange crossover did more than teach me something about the region's innate beauty and history. I also learned a lot more about the car on test than I might normally have on a different, more straightforward route home.
I was at the wheel of the latest Audi Q3 Sportback SUV/crossover after traversing other parts of the county on two wheels. (I learned a lot about that too, especially how drivers can be exceptionally mannerly where open road briefly intersects with greenway - in this case Waterford's. If only that mentality carried over on to our Dublin roads and drivers - and I speak from experience. That's a discussion for another day, perhaps.)
So to the Q3 Sportback. As you may know, the Q3 is a small SUV that rivals the likes of the Mercedes GLA, Range Rover Evoque, BMW X1 and so on for people who like a lot of styling and a bit of life in their cars.
The reason this Audi is called a Sportback is down to it having a sharper, more acutely sloping roofline than the regular Q3.
The effect is to notably reshape its looks along the flanks and rear to make it look a more coupé-ish SUV: style sells in this buyer demographic, the research consistently tells us. If you then add in a strong splash of vibrant Pulse Orange body colour - as was the case on my test vehicle - you should get style and attention on the double.
There is a price to be paid for the more fashionable looks: your rear-view visibility is hampered due to the small back window, but rear parking sensors and camera largely overcame such relatively minor deprivations. Head room was also less generous back there, though it didn't seem to bother one tall young occupant in the course of a journey to Dublin's city centre.
But let's not lose sight of the fact that the Q3 Sportback is a compact SUV, so while upfront room is generous, footprint and design dictate more moderate back-seat and boot accommodation - it's not bad at all though.
In urban traffic, especially, I was glad of the 7-speed automatic gearbox. I'm spoiled, I know, but manual gear-shifting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is abhorrent to me now.
In less-congested urban tracts, it was peppy and responsive. On the open road, the 1.5-litre petrol stayed nice and quiet, especially at motorway speeds. My only criticism was road and tyre noise. The latter revealed itself more audibly over fractured, poorer surfaces on ordinary roads. At the same time, it was good to skirt along the Copper Coast, where I discovered just how accomplished a chassis underpinned the car.
There are some tight, tight turns on that route and I came to enjoy the ease of handling and well-judged feel and touch of the sport-suspension at play in negotiating them, especially in Dynamic driving mode, which mixed heavier steering and sharper response. Huge 20in wheels - here as an added option - could add plenty of grip too. I think its handling is sharper than the Evoque, but not the X1. All the while, the seating position meant I always had a good view of the road ahead.
The dash is well put-together, with quality materials for the most part throughout the cabin, though lower-down elements such as door pockets were a tad more plastic.
An excellent infotainment system allied to the brand's Virtual Cockpit made it a comfortable abode for 600km or so of four-wheel travel (7.1-litres/100km). Unfortunately, two-wheel travel left its mark on this old body and, on the return journey, I was lamenting the absence of better lumbar support from the seat itself and the limited ability to adjust.
It is always a good sign when you find yourself incrementally enjoying a car the longer you have it. That would, with exceptions already mentioned, have been the case with this Q3.
So would I buy it? Yes and no. I can see it being an enjoyable little crossover around town, nimble and easy to park, as well as being up to big-mileage driving. It is undeniably stylish which, as we know, is a major decider for those with discretionary buying power. Even allowing for that, €55,000 for the test car is mad. But do check out a lower-spec version. Like the Copper Coast, it is worth a try.
Audi Q3 Sportback:
1.5-litre, 150bhp, petrol, S-tronic auto, S-line. Pulse Orange.
Price €46,450; after options €54,849.
Spec includes parking sensors, side assist, 19ins alloys, S-line exterior/sports pack, cruise control, semi-leather seats, 4-way lumbar support, 10.1 ins display, virtual cockpit.
Extras: 20ins alloys, rear view camera, panoramic sunroof, ACC.